The captain of the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) has pleaded in a letter for his crew to be taken off the ship as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread among personnel on board.

Amazingly, despite the contents of the letter having been reported widely among news outlets worldwide, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper went on record earlier today Australian time as saying he has not yet read the letter.

The letter by Captain Brett Crozier, which was obtained by newspaper The San Francisco Chronicle and which it says has been confirmed as authentic by a senior officer on the carrier, says that the U.S. Navy has not authorised him to move the bulk of the carrier’s approximately 4,000-member crew ashore, keeping them on board the ship as it is tied up in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

This is despite up to 200 of its crew having tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at the time of writing. Only those who have tested positive are allowed onshore for treatment. The U.S. Navy plans to test all of the crew for the virus, however a shortage of testing kit and processing facilities on Guam means that only 200 can be tested per day.

In the meantime, the remaining crew are quarantined on board the ship for 14 days and are practising social distancing in accordance with relevant guidelines, in effect crippling one of the most prominent symbols of America’s military might.

However, as the experience from a number of cruise ships that have experienced outbreaks of the virulent, potentially fatal COVID-19 virus has shown, the confined spaces, lack of fresh air and close proximity of several thousand people means that once the virus gets on board, it will spread rapidly.

The San Francisco Chronicle was first to report on the letter on Mar. 31, 2020, in which Captain Crozier wrote, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” adding that “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our Sailors.”

“Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and [Navy] guidance and prevent tragic outcomes”.

The Theodore Roosevelt was on a routine patrol of the Western Pacific when the first case of the COVID-19 virus was reported among her crew was reported in late March. Those sailors, as well as others who tested positive while the ship was at sea, were evacuated to Guam while the ship made haste for the Pacific Territory.

It has not been confirmed how the virus got among the crew of the Roosevelt, but the ship’s last port of call before cases of the virus was reported was in the Vietnamese port of Da Nang. The ship arrived on the 4th of March and spent five days there.

Vietnam has recorded cases of the COVID-19 virus, however at the time of the port visit no confirmed cases of the virus were declared in Da Nang although as we have seen elsewhere in the world, it could simply mean that COVID-19 was just spreading undetected there.


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